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Present day


So this is Charity, Pennsylvania, Elliot thought, casting a long, dark look down the wide street that ran through the center of town. What a screwed-up name.


Despite the beauty of the state, this particular place was a shithole, and that was putting it nicely. In Elliot’s opinion, there didn’t seem to be a single charitable thing about it, its only redeeming feature the fact it was surrounded by thick, lush forest. As a Lycan, or werewolf, Elliot craved the scent and feel of the woods the way a baby hungered for mother’s milk. So in his eyes, the surrounding forest was the only saving grace to good ol’ run-down, seen-better-days-decades-ago Charity.


Not even the haggard Christmas lights flashing down the sides of the street could make the place look cheery.


“Dude, what’s up with the look on your face? You step in some yellow snow, or just thinking about how long it’s been since you actually made an effort to get laid?”


The questions came from the pain in the ass standing beside him, his Bloodrunning partner and best friend, Max Doucet. The two of them had met nearly a decade ago, at the lowest points of their lives, and somehow found their way through the nightmare together. Max had once been human, before he was attacked by a rogue wolf and turned. And Elliot… Elliot’s nature had been forged in the jaws of hell itself.


And now they worked as Bloodrunners alongside the men and women who’d saved them all those years ago. Max had been fortunate to have the Runners’ support because he was an innocent who’d been caught up in the pack’s troubles, and Elliot because he’d acted on instinct and saved the life of Torrance Dillinger when she was attacked by the group of rogue wolves he’d been involved with. Her husband and mate, Mason, had told the frightened, traumatized young Lycan Elliot had been back then that they’d helped him because they could tell he had a good heart. Such simple words, and yet, he knew it was their faith in him that had made the difference. That had kept him in the light, when he could have easily slithered into a cold, emotionless existence that would have been too much like his parents’ way of living.


Thanks, but no thanks.


Given a second chance, he’d held on to the Runners’ belief in him with a white-knuckled grip as the years went by, while still holding himself back from the things most men craved. Holding back, until he finally reached a point where he’d started to believe he could trust himself as much as they did. And it was then that he’d started to let his body and mind want more.


And, yeah, by more he meant a woman.


He might not have any experience, save that one hellish night all those years ago, but he’d learned physical control. You couldn’t be a Runner without it, and he was one of the best. Elliot could say that without being cocky, the work he and Max did more than worthy of their positions within the group.

But he refused to let his hard-earned control over his body bleed its way into his emotions. He might be more subdued than Max, but he still felt things deeply…strongly. Probably a hell of a lot more strongly than even those closest to him knew.


So, yeah, he lusted and hungered for the pleasure that could be found in the soft, tender clasp of a woman’s body. And yet, when he’d finally allowed himself to want more, there’d been no one he knew who’d captured his attention. He’d tried dating within the pack a few times, but as badly as his body craved release, he hadn’t found a woman who was the woman. The one he wanted so badly he ached with it. And if he’d waited this long, Elliot figured he might as well make it worth it.


Despite how long he’d been alone, he wanted a lover. Someone he could lose himself in; someone he could learn. Learn to please. To make moan. Even to scream.


But with pleasure. Only ever with pleasure. So much pleasure that he would be the only thing she craved. The one thing in the world she needed above all others.


So I’ll wait as long as it takes, he silently growled, hoping that all the hours he spent hunting for the scum of the earth in shitty towns like this one would pay off for him one day. That his years of sacrifice would lead him to something good. Something that was damn well worth the wait.


Tired of being ignored, Max suddenly stepped in front of him and arched a raven brow. “Since you’ve gone mute on me, I’ll take your crabby expression to mean that you want out of this shitastic place as badly as I do.”


He jerked his chin up in response, glad that Max was on the same page with him.


“So how are we gonna do it?”


“We could always flip a coin,” he murmured with a smirk, since it was one of the tamer ways they divvied up jobs when they didn’t have a preference. “I don’t think the cops around here would appreciate it if we tried to see who can howl the loudest.”


Max gave a rough bark of laughter, then pulled a shiny new quarter from his front pocket and rubbed it between his fingers. “Heads, you get to go inside and risk food poisoning while waiting for the waitress to show. Tails, you get to haul your ass over to the apartment complex and scout out the other one.”


“Vivian, right?”


“Yeah, and this one is Skye, with an e.” With his free hand, Max pulled his phone from his other pocket, and flicked a look down at the screen, where the info that had been emailed to them by Jared Monroe—a Fed who was friendly with the pack—was displayed. “Skye Hewitt.”


“What kind of person names their kid Skye?”


Max snorted. “Probably some nature-loving hippy who wears daisies in her hair.”


“Yeah,” he murmured distractedly, his thoughts already drifting back to the hunt that had brought them there, and away from the human’s unusual name.


For the past three weeks, he and Max had been hunting a…puzzle. A monstrous one, but a puzzle no less. One they wanted solved so badly they could taste it.


It had all started with a string of missing persons’ reports that Monroe had asked them to look into. Some unusual happenings around the disappearances had caused Monroe, whose sister was married to a Lycan from the Silvercrest pack, to suspect that there was more to the case than his human agents would be able to handle. Something dark and sinister and predatory—like an animal on the hunt for its prey—and Monroe had been right to be suspicious.


When Elliot and Max had worked over the crime scenes, their sharper-than-human senses had picked up clues that the FBI had failed to notice. Things like the faint, musky scent that clung to the locations where seven different women had simply vanished.


That was the killer part of the case right there. All of the victims were female…and human…and exceptionally beautiful. And now they were just gone, with no trace of them left behind for their loved ones to cling to.


There had been no bodies recovered, which meant that if the psychopath responsible was killing them, he was smart enough to hide the victims where they were difficult to find. But Elliot didn’t think that was the case, and Max agreed with him.


Instead, they believed the women were being kept. Imprisoned. And undoubtedly used. Though at this point, they couldn’t be sure of anything. All Elliot knew for certain was that he and Max planned to find those women, set them free and make the one responsible pay. With blood and pain…and ultimately death. That bastard deserved no less, and he sure as hell wouldn’t be shown any mercy.


“Okay,” Max murmured, drawing Elliot from his thoughts. “Let’s do this thing.”


The late-afternoon sun glinted against the shiny metal as Max tossed the coin into the air. It spun, then fell into his waiting hand. Max flipped the coin onto the top of his other hand, then revealed the outcome.


“Congratulations!” the jackass said with a smirk, knowing the noisy diner would grate on Elliot’s nerves. “Looks like you get to go in and meet the mysterious Skye.”


Shaking off the cold chill that had started to settle over his shoulders, he jerked his chin toward the front of the retro-styled diner. “Guess it’s a good thing it takes a hell of a lot to poison our guts, huh?”


“Hey, you never know,” said the guy with a cast-iron stomach. “It might taste freaking fantastic.”


“Or like shit.”


“That too,” Max agreed with a laugh. “But look at it this way—at least you get to relax for a while, while

I’m off to venture even farther into this shit-stain of a town in search of her friend.”


“Just hurry and get back here,” he murmured, shoving his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. “I don’t want to be waiting all night. We don’t know how much time we have before they try to take them, and Mase’ll kill us if we have a showdown in the middle of a human town.”


“Mase would understand.”


This time, Elliot was the one who snorted. “After he kicked your ass.”


Max laughed as he pulled out his crumpled pack of cigarettes. “The old man could try.”


“Yeah, right,” he muttered, enjoying ribbing his friend. “Even you’re smart enough to know not to mess with those guys.” At twenty-seven and almost twenty-nine, he and Max were by far the youngest of the Runners. But while Mason and the other guys were into their forties now, they were in their freaking prime. As lethal and powerful as they’d ever been, and some of the dirtiest fighters Elliot had ever seen.


Which meant Max would undoubtedly get his pretty ass handed to him, seeing as how the guy’s conscience was still a bit more human than wolf. He could be just as deadly as the rest of them, but there was always a subdued edge to Max’s brutality. A sense that he was doing what his head told him had to be done, rather than his heart. It made Elliot worry that his friend might hesitate a second too long one day, instead of fully trusting the instincts of his wolf. And those types of delays could be costly…especially when dealing with the kind of monsters they came across.


They chatted for a few more seconds, while Max lit his smoke and took a deep drag. Then they said their goodbyes, and Max turned to head back to his truck.


Unable to shake the sense of foreboding that was climbing up his spine, Elliot shouted, “Watch your six!”


“You too, man,” Max called back over his shoulder, before disappearing around the corner.

Instead of heading straight into the diner, Elliot decided to stay outside for a while, where it was quiet.

He propped his back against one of the gray lampposts that ran down the snowplowed street, content to simply have a few moments to himself while he watched what was going on in the place through its massive front windows.


There were three waitresses working the floor, but none of them matched Hewitt’s age or description. Not that they had all that much to go on. He and Max caught a lucky break back in Philly, where the last abduction had taken place. A drug addict, who had been sleeping under some cardboard boxes in an alley behind the club the victim had been taken from, had listened to a group of what he described as “big, badass-looking men” as they’d discussed their next “targets.” The jackass hadn’t done a goddamn thing to help the woman who was dragged into the alley, bound and gagged, and tossed into the back of a white delivery van. But he’d at least been able to tell Elliot and Max fragments of the conversation he’d overheard.


According to the addict, who had never come forward to the police officers who had canvassed the area, the men were meant to drop off the woman they’d taken from the club with their employer, and then head to Charity, where they would track down two young roommates by the names of Skye Hewitt and Vivian Jackson. And while Vivian certainly seemed to be in keeping with the employer’s taste—lean and brunette and exotically beautiful—Skye was the exact opposite. A so-called “wholesome, pudgy blonde.” She sounded more cute than drop-dead, in-your-face gorgeous like the other victims had been. But Elliot didn’t give a crap what she looked like. He just wanted to find her, and protect her, while hopefully getting a lead on where the other women were being held.


With Skye and Vivian’s names, as well as the town they lived in, it’d been easy for Monroe to track down their current address and places of employment. A few carefully worded phone calls, and the Fed had even managed to get the Runners both of the women’s schedules, which was how they knew Skye’s shift would be starting any moment now.


As if he’d managed to make her appear by simply thinking about her, the swinging door that Elliot assumed led to the kitchen was pushed open, and a woman walked through, coming into view. A young woman who looked to be in her early twenties, with thick, lustrous hair falling down past her shoulders, a curvy body and a smile that made him suck in a sharp breath, just before his own body jolted like he’d been kicked in the stomach.


Son of a bitch, he thought, pressing his hand against the center of his chest. The sight of her smiling face had just knocked the air out of him so hard that it hurt.


Elliot narrowed his eyes as he stared at the woman, eating up every detail like his wolf with a bone. With his keen eyesight, he could see the letters on her nametag: S-K-Y-E. It was really her, Skye Hewitt, and Jesus, she was…different. But in a good way. In an “I can’t stop staring, would probably kill to get closer to her” kind of way. And, um, yeah…that was unexpected.


As Elliot stood there like a friggin’ statue and watched her, it became easy to see what—beyond her physical beauty—had captured the interest of the man responsible for the kidnappings. She was…soft. Soft and sweet and inviting as hell. Standing outside in the chilly evening air, shrouded by the deepening darkness, the faint flicker of the scattered Christmas lights too weak to reach him, Elliot couldn’t take his damn eyes off her as she started serving the tables in her section. There was an addictive, undeniable warmth in her gaze, and in the bright smile she gave to those around her, even while working her ass off. It was completely out of place in the dingy town, and impossible to resist. A lure…and it was calling to him, making him want, when he hadn’t wanted anyone in what felt like forever.


Not since Marly. And never… Shit, never like this.


When he glanced down at the thick watch on his wrist and saw that nearly an hour and a half had gone by since she’d walked through that swinging door, he cursed under his breath. What the hell? Had she put some kind of spell on him? Then he lifted his head, catching sight of her as she playfully stuck her tongue out at a toddler who was giggling and doing the same, and Elliot found himself giving such a loud bark of laughter that it made the old woman shuffling past him on the sidewalk jump.


“Sorry,” he murmured, when the old lady huffed at him. He gave her an apologetic grin, then glanced back into the diner, and instantly scowled at the sight of some jerk checking out Skye’s ass as she bent over to clear a table. The bastard. Thinking it was time he finally went inside, he pushed off from the lamppost and walked over to the door.


The first thing that hit him when he walked into the diner was the scent of the place. It was strong, especially for someone with his heightened sense of smell. A heavy mixture of greasy food, strong coffee, even stronger perfume and an underlying layer of whatever cleaning products they used. He was trying to search out Skye’s scent in the midst of all those odors when an older woman chewing bubble gum and sporting an actual beehive hairdo popped up from behind the hostess’s station.


“You want a table or a booth, pretty boy?” she asked, coming around the side of the station with a plastic menu in her hand.


“Whatever you have free in Skye’s section.”


The woman gave a low, knowing laugh, and started leading him over to an empty booth. “Skye’s slammed at the moment,” she told him, handing him the menu as he sat down, his long legs barely fitting in the cramped space under the table. “But she’ll be over to take your order in just a few.”


“No problem,” he murmured, barely aware of her setting down a bowl of peanuts, his attention already captured by Skye. She was delivering food to a table only about ten feet from his booth, and he couldn’t look away. The damn building could have caught fire, and he would have still been sitting there, completely mesmerized by her.


She was even more beautiful without the distance between them, though he would have preferred to have her right there with him, in the booth. Or even better, straddling his lap, polyester skirt tugged up around her generous hips, and his...



From the book:  WILD WOLF CLAIMING by Rhyannon Byrd

Copyright © 2015

® and ™  are trademarks of the publisher.

The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




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